The bigger story behind Governor DeSantis’ antisemitism bill

Victoria Reed

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There are rising concerns about how a new antisemitism bill will affect students’ ability to criticize Israel and participate in challenging conversations on campus.  

House bill, HB741, was signed last month by Governor Ron DeSantis. The bill contends with antisemitism in Florida by classifying religion as a protected class in the state’s education system.

Matt Hartley, associate director of the Interfaith Center at UNF, says that beyond UNF’s campus, there have been some concerns that this bill could silence criticism of the state of Israel.

Hartley says he’s spoken to students who support Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions who want to have conversations about it on campus.

“I think students are looking for the opportunity to have a robust discussion, to be challenged and be able to challenge,” said Hartley.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Attorney General says that hate crimes motivated by religion in Florida is at 27.2 percent.

Hartley says that after UNF’s Jewish students saw the attacks of two synagogues over the last year, they’re aware of the national landscape, and are concerned about their own safety.

“There’s a sense that the national landscape of antisemitism in some ways pushes onto the UNF campus,” said Hartley.

In 2017, a UNF student posted an alarming photo holding a rifle with a swastika tattoo on his chess. His post raised safety concerns during that time regarding minority students, including Jewish students. The student responsible for that post no longer attends UNF and has since apologized and denounced white supremacy.

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